Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Plugging out

In October last year I uninstalled RealPlayer from my computer. Almost exactly 6 months on and I’ve not encountered any audio or video which refused to play as a result. The ubiquity and ease of Flash video has basically killed off its rivals, and many sites which relied on Real technologies now offer alternatives.
This has started a new trend for me: plugin minimalism. I’ve disabled, or uninstalled, as many of my browser’s plugins as possible to see how easy it is to do without them. Having lots of plugins potentially opens you up to a wider range of security flaws; no matter how secure your browser is, if Flash, or QuickTIme, or Silverlight has a security flaw then you’re still at risk.
I’ve uninstalled Adobe Shockwave – this was essentially the pre-cursor to Flash and although Adobe are still supporting it almost no-one uses it anymore.
QuickTime is disabled, for similar reasons to RealPlayer above. Of course, as I use a Mac, uninstalling QuickTime is not an option, and even on Windows I wouldn’t recommend it. iTunes uses it, as does some third-party software like Trillian. The DivX plugin has suffered a similar fate; I would uninstall it completely but I do have a DivX license. Not that I really use it…
The iPhotoPhotocast and Picasa plugins are disabled on account of me not having a clue what they actually do. I don’t use iPhoto or Picasa Web Albums. And Microsoft’s Silverlight is disabled until I find more sites which use it – right now, few sites other than feature it.
Firefox’s Addons Manager lets you disable and enable plugins without a restart, so re-enabling them is straightforward if I do find them useful. Of course, uninstalling is a little more permanent but so far I haven’t regretted removing Shockwave or RealPlayer.
So, what’s actually enabled? Java, for sites like Facebook and ThinkBroadband’s speed checker; and Flash, for reasons I’ve discussed. That’s it. Just those two.
Maybe in future the average web user won’t even need those 2 plugins – provided HTML5 takes off. Having all interactive content support built into the browser will make system administration so much easier – just one product to keep up to date instead of a variety of packages.

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